by Bill Federer
George Washington was born Feb. 22, 1732. Washington was:
- unanimously chosen as the Army’s Commander-in-Chief
- unanimously chosen as President of the Constitutional Convention
- unanimously chosen as the first U.S. president
George Washington was an Anglican, and, after the Revolution, an Episcopalian. His great-great-grandfather, Rev. Lawrence Washington, was an Anglican minister in Essex, England, who lost his position when the Puritans won England’s Civil War in 1651.
George Washington’s great-grandfather, John Washington, sailed as a merchant and immigrated to Virginia. He became a planter, politician, and militia leader. A local Anglican church was renamed “Washington” in honor of John Washington.
Following his family’s church tradition in England, when John Washington died, he left to the church a tablet of the Ten Commandments, on which he inscribed: “Being heartily sorry from the bottome of my hart for my sins past, most humbly desiring forgiveness of the same from the Almighty God (my Saviour) and Redeemer, in whom and by the merits of Jesus Christ, I trust and believe assuredly to be saved, and to have full remission and forgiveness of all my sins.”
George Washington’s grandfather, Lawrence, was Anglican. George’s father, Augustine, served as a vestryman in the Anglican Truro Parish. George’s father Augustine Washington, died when George was 11 years old. George’s older half-brother Lawrence fought in the British navy under Admiral Edward Vernon, who had captured Porto Bello, Panama, from Spain in 1739.
When Lawrence returned to Virginia in 1742, he named his farm after his Admiral – Mount Vernon. Lawrence married Anne Fairfax, whose father had been governor of the Bahamas as well as cousins of Thomas Farifax, the largest land owner in America – five million acres. Lawrence arranged for George, at age 15, to begin a career in the British navy as a cabin boy, but George’s widowed mother, Mary Ball Washington, refused.
George Washington became vestryman in Truro Parish, and was godfather in baptism to a niece and several nephews. In 1748, the 16-year-old George Washington was employed by Thomas Farifax to survey the western area of his vast estate.
In 1751, Lawrence Washington, who had contracted tuberculosis, went to Barbados in hopes the change of climate would help him recover. He had his 17-year-old brother George accompany him. In Barbados, George contracted smallpox, but recovered. This providentially inoculated George so that he was not affected during the Revolutionary War, where more soldiers died of smallpox than in battle.
When Lawrence died, his Mount Vernon estate was eventually inherited by George, making him, at age 29, one of the largest landowners in Virginia.
George served as a colonel in the French and Indian War under General Edward Braddock, Commander of the British forces in America. George miraculously survived the Battle of Monongehela in 1755, where he had two horses shot from under him and four bullets through his coat. Braddock was killed, leaving George in command. In 1759, George fell in love and married the 26-year-old widow and mother with two children – Martha Dandridge Custis.
George Washington was commissioned as general of the Continental Army in 1775. When the Declaration of Independence was written, a copy was rushed out to Washington, who was fortifying New York City. He had it read to his troops, then ordered chaplains placed in each regiment, stating July 9, 1776: “The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier, defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.”
General Washington wrote at Valley Forge, May 2, 1778: “To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to laud the more distinguished Character of Christian.”
To the Delaware Indian Chiefs who brought three youths to be trained in American schools, General Washington stated, May 12, 1779: “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.”
On July 2, 1776, from his headquarters in New York, General Washington issued his general orders: “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us no choice but a brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore to resolve to conquer or die. Our own country’s honor calls upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion, and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous to the whole world. Let us rely upon the goodness of the cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions.”
On Oct. 2, 1775, General George Washington issued the order: “Any … soldier who shall hereafter be detected playing at toss-up, pitch, and hustle, or any other games of chance … shall without delay be confined and punished. … The General does not mean by the above to discourage sports of exercise or recreation, he only means to discountenance and punish gaming.”
On Feb. 26, 1776, General Washington issued the orders: “All … soldiers are positively forbid playing at cards and other games of chance. At this time of public distress men may find enough to do in the service of their God and their country, without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.”
On July 4, 1775, General Washington ordered: “The General … requires … observance of those articles of war … which forbid profane cursing, swearing and drunkenness; And … requires … punctual attendance of Divine Services.”
As recorded in “The Writings of George Washington” (March 10, 1778, 11:83-84, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934), George Washington ordered: “At a General Court Marshall … Lieutt. Enslin of Colo. Malcom’s Regiment tried for attempting to commit sodomy, with John Monhort a soldier…and do sentence him to be dismiss’d the service with Infamy. His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence and Detestation of such Infamous Crimes orders Liett. Enslin to be drummed out of Camp tomorrow morning by all the Drummers and Fifers in the Army never to return.”
Washington acknowledged God throughout the Revolution, as he wrote on May 15, 1776: “The Continental Congress having ordered Friday the 17th instant to be observed as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, humbly to supplicate the mercy of Almighty God, that it would please Him to pardon all our manifold sins and transgressions, and to prosper the arms of the United Colonies, and finally establish the peace and freedom of America upon a solid and lasting foundation; the General commands all officers and soldiers to pay strict obedience to the orders of the Continental Congress; that, by their unfeigned and pious observance of their religious duties, they may incline the Lord and Giver of victory to prosper our arms.”
George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and was sworn in as the first president in 1789. As president, Washington thanked God for the Constitution, Oct. 3, 1789: “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God … I do recommend … rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks, for … the favorable interpositions of His Providence … we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war … for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government.”
In his farewell address, 1796, Washington stated: “Disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual … (who) turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty. … The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. … Let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”
Earlier, in 1783, the American-born painter Benjamin West was in England painting the portrait of King George III. When the King asked what General Washington planned to do now that he had won the war.
West replied: “They say he will return to his farm.”
King George exclaimed: “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Poet Robert Frost once wrote: “I often say of George Washington that he was one of the few men in the whole history of the world who was not carried away by power.”
George Washington added in his farewell address, 1796: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness.”